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ECONOMY

Italy faces worst recession since WWII due to coronavirus

Facing its deepest recession since World War II and with business confidence collapsing, the coronavirus pandemic is hitting Italy's economy hard.

Italy faces worst recession since WWII due to coronavirus
A woman walks past a closed men's clothing shop in Rome on May 21, 2020. Placards read "Without government aid we cannot reopen on May 18, thousands of employees at risk." VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

Business confidence in the eurozone's third largest economy in May plummeted to its lowest level since official statistics institute ISTAT started the index in March 2005.

The figure is “alarming”, said small business federation Confesercenti.

“The health and economic emergency has swept businesses away, especially in shops, services and tourism,” it said.

Its members are particularly concerned “by the lack of liquidity necessary to pay costs and salaries… we are close to a point of no return and that's why the measures decided by the government (loan guarantees, SME subsidies) must be operational immediately,” said federation head Patrizia De Luise.

“We need to reduce bureaucracy and accelerate and simplify procedures, because if support is delayed again, many businesses will have no option but to stop,” she said.

Storekeepers asking for the reopening of shops and commercial activities gather for a flashmob protest outside the Santa Lucia railway station by the Grand Canal in Venice, May 03, 2020.  MARCO SABADIN / AFP

The government last week accused banks of not acting quickly enough, but they said that they had already passed on around 400,000 loan requests worth more than 18 billion euros ($20 billion) to the state-backed Central Guarantee Fund.

A million jobs threatened

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic and imposed a strict two-month lockdown which paralysed much of the country's economic activity.

As a result, the country is set for a drop in GDP of between nine and 13 percent, the Bank of Italy said on Friday.

Data also showed that the economy shrank 5.3 percent in the first quarter — worse than the 4.7 percent initially estimated. It had not seen such an “exceptional” decline in the first quarter since 1995, ISTAT said.

This year's losses could amount to 170 billion euros, equivalent to the GDP of Veneto, Italy's third biggest industrial region, a Mediobanca study said.

The head of the country's main business confederation Cofindustria, Carlo Bonomi, said that up to a million jobs could be threatened nationwide.

“We're waiting for figures at the end of May but indications are that between 700,000 and a million jobs are in danger,” he said.

“Jobs are only created if there is growth, innovation, investment. The car manufacturing crisis can't be solved with subsidies or furloughing. You solve it by looking to the future, by investing in new technologies,” he said.

Italy is set to be the main beneficiary of a European Union 750-billion-euro recovery plan but it still may not be enough.

A hairdresser takes part in a flashmob protest of storekeepers asking for the reopening of shops and commercial activities, on the Rialto Bridge overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice on 03 May 2020.  MARCO SABADIN / AFP

No aid

Italian citizens are slightly more optimistic, but far from celebrating. The pandemic has killed over 30,000 people.

Consumer confidence went from 100.1 points in May to 94.3 in March, its lowest level since December 2013.

While the state has paid for furloughs or handouts for those no longer able to work, many have slipped through the net.

They include Eleonora Fogliacco, 35, a fitness and swimming teacher in Lombardy, the hardest hit region where gyms were ordered closed at the end of February.

“I didn't qualify for the 600-euro monthly government handout because I earned more than 10,000 euros last year,” she told AFP.

“During the crisis I had peaceful days and days when I felt completely lost, without any state help. I could no longer see the future and I didn't know what to hold onto,” she said. “I don't buy anything. I depend on my partner for the shopping,” said Fogliacco.

“This situation has changed everybody's way of life (and) everything will be very complicated” in the future, she added.

According to a Confcommercio-Censis poll published on Tuesday, 53 percent of Italian families see their future negatively and 68 percent see the country's future negatively.

Because of lockdown, 42 percent of families have had to reduce their work and income, 26 percent have stopped work and 24 percent have been furloughed.

Six out of 10 families fear losing a job, as a result of which 28 percent have decided to take no holidays nor long weekends.

 

 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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